Share the road
by George Garber
Nothing beats riding a bike on the city streets and country roads of our state. Kentucky is a good place for bicycling. But it could be better.
Many Kentuckians say they want to ride bikes, but don’t feel safe on the roads. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officially encourages bicycle travel, and government money is earmarked for that purpose. But our state lags behind its neighbors in putting that policy into effect. Even a modest switch from cars to bikes would pay dividends: cleaner air, better health, and less traffic congestion. Still, bicycle use remains stuck at a very low level.
What would put more of us on our bikes? Many people assume the answer lies in separate facilities such as bike paths, and to some extent that’s true. But facilities built just for bikes will never, on their own, make Kentucky hospitable to bicyclists. For one thing, they cost too much. We can’t afford to build paths everywhere cyclists need to go. A more fundamental drawback is that separate rarely means equal. Bike paths tend to be inferior to other roads in pavement quality and maintenance. People won’t ride a path that’s rough, or covered with trash, or buried under snow.
To make cycling a real travel option, we need to accommodate cyclists on the roads we already have. Fortunately, that’s not hard. All it takes is a little room and a little respect.
The room cyclists need depends on the kind of road. Residential streets and country lanes already work fine. On busy urban thoroughfares, the best choice is often a wider curb lane. On rural roads, the perfect solution is a paved shoulder. Even a narrow shoulder makes a huge difference to the cyclists who ride it and the motorists who wish to pass them. And unlike bike paths, paved shoulders and wider curb lanes offer benefits even if no cyclists happen to use them.
Extra room won’t do much, however, unless road users respect one another. Motorists must recognize that cyclists have a right to travel on public roads. That’s the law, as well as a tradition that goes back to before cars were invented. Cyclists need to ride predictably and follow the rules of the road, so other travelers can interact with them safely. And it never hurts to be polite, no matter what you’re riding.
With a few changes, Kentuckians could feel welcome to ride their bikes anywhere in the state.
George Garber rides his bike several thousand miles a year and is the author of Backroad Bicycling in Kentucky’s Bluegrass. He lives in Lexington with his wife, Carol.
Civil War Summer
With the success of last year’s Central Kentucky Civil War Heritage Trail, many Civil War sites are again teaming up to offer a weeklong event full of interpretive activities. Three additional sites have signed on for this year’s event.
The 2005 Central Kentucky Civil War Heritage Trail will be held July 18-24, 2005. The events and dates will be held:
Monday, July 18 - Perryville
Tuesday, July 19 - Mill Springs
Wednesday, July 20 - Camp Wildcat
Thursday, July 21 - Richmond and Winchester
Friday, July 22 - Camp Nelson
Saturday, July 23 - Frankfort
Sunday, July 24 - Munfordville and Tebbs Bend
For more information, visit www.kycivilwar.org.
The bears are back
Last summer, Kingdom Come State Park visitors watched as a mother bear and five cubs wandered through the grounds in their “new” home. New, since black bears had virtually disappeared from Kentucky approximately 100 years ago. A recent festival in Cumberland celebrated the black bear’s return and provided opportunities for bear education.
“We want to educate folks about the black bear and the repopulation of the black bear in Kentucky,” says Jeremy Williams, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources in Harlan County. “Bears were nearly extinct and hadn’t been here since the late 1800s due to human harassment, environmental changes, and population increases. We’re glad to see the bears coming back.”
At the festival, in its second year, school children learned about black bears, viewed black bear art and photographs, and practiced archery and fishing skills. They also got to make animal tracks with plaster of Paris, see bear hides and skulls, and learn how researchers track bears in the area via safe, battery-operated collars.
Hannah Harris is a graduate student at UK working toward a doctorate in wildlife biology. She came to UK specifically to work on the black bear project and has been tracking bears at Kingdom Come for a few years.
“There’s no question that things are changing in the park,” she says, referring to increasing black bear numbers. “Part of my project is to follow the bears and see where they are traveling and look for problems they are having. The other part is to talk to people of this area about their experiences with bears. People are really interested and excited and kind of adopting the bear as a mascot for the area.”
Kingdom Come State Park Manager Rick Fuller says the return of the black bear has been a boon to the park.
“The exposure we’re getting is great,” he says. “People are finding out about us. But we want them to know that there is a potential danger with bears because they are the largest predator that has ever lived in this part of the country. We’ve put up several signs around the park giving the public general information about the bears. The one thing we want to do is make sure people realize black bears are not cute, cuddly teddy bears. You can’t go up and give it a big hug. A bear, just like a human, has a comfort zone, and if you invade that comfort zone, no telling what the reaction will be, and no two bears have the same comfort zone. As long as we treat them with respect, we don’t have a problem.”
Attendance at the 2nd annual Black Bear Festival was expected to reach 5,000, which Williams says is up from about 1,000 last year.
—Aimee Nielson, UK Extension
Hancock County Fair info
In the listing of county fairs in the May issue, we left out the contact information for the Hancock County Fair. That phone number is (270) 927-6525.